This week I will post the annual three-part Bookshelf, in case you are looking for some help as you do your Christmas shopping — for yourself, a family member or a friend. . . . As I journey through retirement, I have found myself mixing in a few books from days gone by and also note that I have been reading more and more books that don’t have much, if anything, to do with sports. In 2021, perhaps because of the lack of normalcy, there also has been more reading of ‘lite’ fiction. . . . Anyway, here they are — most of the books that I read in 2021. . . .
An Accidental Sportswriter: A Memoir — Robert Lipsyte was there from Muhammad Ali’s career through baseball’s steroid era and a whole lot more. For a lot of that time, he was The New York Times’ lead sports columnist. He revisits all of that here, and also writes about his own hits and misses as a writer in a real gem of a book.
A Man Called Intrepid — Intrepid was the code name for William Stephenson — later Sir William Stephenson — and this is the story of his involvement in the Second World War. It’s a fascinating story about spies and counter spies and codes and code breakers and deception and a whole lot more. The detail provided by author William Stevenson is out of this world. (NOTE: William Stevenson, the author, wasn’t related to William Stephenson.)
A Promised Land — I finished this 700-pager early in February and knew then that I wouldn’t read a better book in 2021. Written by Barack Obama, the two-term U.S. president, it isn’t at all ponderous or heavy slogging. He is a terrific writer with the knack for explaining complicated goings-on in easy-to-understand terms, whether it’s a financial crisis, his country’s relationship with Russia, events leading up to the Arab Spring, or the killing of Osama bin Laden. This is Volume 1 of a two-book set. I eagerly await the next part. Spoiler alert: Mitch McConnell is exactly what you think he is.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup — Elizabeth Holmes had a dream. But is that what it was, or was it really happening? John Carreyrou, a writer with the Wall Street Journal, got a tip about Theranos, a startup that was going to revolutionize the field of blood-testing. His writings for the paper led to this book, one that is an unbelievable read, and one that proves the adage about a fool and his money, or, in this case, fools and their money. (Note: Holmes, who is on trial in San Jose, Calif., has pleaded not guilty to nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy.)
The Bastard — Written by John Jakes and published in 1974, this is Book 1 in The Kent Family Chronicles, historical fiction that charts the growth of the U.S. Book 1 follows Philippe Charbonneau, whose mother never married his father, the 6th Duke of Kent, from France to England and then to Boston. By now, he has changed his name to Philip Kent and finds himself wrapped up in the beginnings of the American Revolution. . . . All told, The Kent Family Chronicles features eight historical novels.
Bearcat Murray: From Ol’ Potlicker to Calgary Flames Legend — If you want to read a hockey book that is loaded with anecdotes, this one is for you. Murray, whose little-used first name is Jim, does the talking and George Johnson, a terrific writer who somehow got squeezed out in one of those Postmedia massacres, does the writing. Hey, the ol’ Bearcat had a fan club with chapters in Boston and Montreal. Who knew?
Big Lies in a Small Town: A Novel — In alternating chapters, author Diane Chamberlain tells the story of two artists who lived 78 years apart and how they became intertwined in so many ways. Their stories take place in Edenton, N.C., so the book is full of southern politics and prejudice. This is a well-written book by an oft-published author that just drags the reader into the story as it progresses.
Billy Summers — Brilliant. This one, from author Stephen King, is absolutely brilliant. Billy Summers is a hitman who has decided that he will do one more job and then hang up his rifle. Of course, it’s a lot more complicated than that, but King does a masterful job of weaving together all the threads. A wonderful read.
Blacktop Wasteland — The main character in this brilliant work of fiction is Beauregard Montage, known as Bug to friends and acquaintances. He’s married with two young sons, and there also is a daughter from another relationship. His is a day-to-day existence, which leads to him living two lives. In one, he’s the proprietor of a small two-bay garage that is fighting to stay open. In the other, he’s a driver — yes, a getaway driver — and he’s really, really good at it. He’s also in a perpetual state of conflict because of all this. Author S.A. Cosby has put this all together into a terrific story that won an L.A. Times book prize for mystery/thriller of the year.
The Breaker — This is the sixth book in author Nick Petrie’s series involving Peter Ash, an ex-Marine who just can’t stay away from bad situations. They find him — indeed, they seem to hunt him out — and then he takes it from there. If you like Jack Reacher and Jason Bourne and Harry Bosch and their ilk, you’ll enjoy Peter Ash and his world.
Broken — Don Winslow has done it again, only this time he hits a home run with six short stories, all of them centred in the world that he seems to know so well — bad guys, bad cops, drugs, thugs and all the rest. If you haven’t already, you’ll want to read his trilogy — The Power of the Dog, the Cartel and The Force. It’s all great stuff, and Broken fits right in there.
The Broken Shore — Having stumbled on Jack Irish, an Australian TV series, I discovered that it was based on novels written by Peter Temple. The Broken Shore isn’t a Jack Irish book, but it is quite good. Temple has a quick wit and a way with words. Keep in mind that it all is Australia-based, but if you stick with it you won’t be disappointed. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s gritty, bloody and obscene. Oh, and it’s good. Really, really good. . . . The sequel, Truth, is awfully good too.
The Bushman’s Lair: On the Trail of the Fugitive of the Shuswap — More than 20 years have passed since John Bjornstrom, aka the Bushman of the Shuswap, was hiding out in the wilds surrounding Shuswap Lake in the Interior of B.C. With this book, author Paul McKendrick details Bjornstrom’s story and everything is included, from his involvement with Bre-X to his escape from a prison facility near Kamloops to his capture and a run for mayor in Williams Lake, B.C. And when you turn the final page, you are left to wonder whether Bjornstrom was an eccentric running from society or if he really did have a plan.
Call Me Indian: From the Trauma of Residential School to Becoming the NHL’s First Treaty Indigenous Player — This isn’t a work of fiction. It’s Fred Sasakamoose’s story, one that goes from a residential school in Saskatchewan to four years with the Moose Jaw Canucks to the NHL and back to the area around Sandy Lake, Sask. Sasakamoose doesn’t pull any punches about his time in the residential school or anything else, including his battles with alcohol and his regrets about not being a better father. In short, this is a book that you should read, but know that you won’t soon forget it. Unfortunately, COVID-19 took him from us on Nov. 20, 2020, before his book was published.
Camino Winds — This is a followup to Camino Island, the book that introduced us to Bruce Cable, who owns Bay Books. The prolific John Grisham has another winner here, too, as he writes about a hurricane, a dead writer and a whole lot more. So much of what Grisham writes is relevant to the times and this one isn’t any different. Pay attention to the many chunks of dialogue, some small and some no so small, that are commentary on today’s U.S. political situation as much as anything else.
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